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The Parting of the Sea

The Parting of the Sea: How Volcanoes, Earthquakes, and Plagues Shaped the Story of Exodus

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    The Parting of the Sea
    Book Description:

    For more than four decades, biblical experts have tried to place the story of Exodus into historical context--without success. What could explain the Nile turning to blood, insects swarming the land, and the sky falling to darkness? Integrating biblical accounts with substantive archaeological evidence,The Parting of the Sealooks at how natural phenomena shaped the stories of Exodus, the Sojourn in the Wilderness, and the Israelite conquest of Canaan. Barbara Sivertsen demonstrates that the Exodus was in fact two separate exoduses both triggered by volcanic eruptions--and provides scientific explanations for the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. Over time, Israelite oral tradition combined these events into the Exodus narrative known today.

    Skillfully unifying textual and archaeological records with details of ancient geological events, Sivertsen shows how the first exodus followed a 1628 B.C.E Minoan eruption that produced all but one of the first nine plagues. The second exodus followed an eruption of a volcano off the Aegean island of Yali almost two centuries later, creating the tenth plague of darkness and a series of tsunamis that "parted the sea" and drowned the pursuing Egyptian army. Sivertsen's brilliant account explains inconsistencies in the biblical story, fits chronologically with the conquest of Jericho, and confirms that the Israelites were in Canaan before the end of the sixteenth century B.C.E.

    In examining oral traditions and how these practices absorb and process geological details through storytelling,The Parting of the Seareveals how powerful historical narratives are transformed into myth.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2995-8
    Subjects: General Science, Archaeology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION The Exodus, Oral Tradition, and Natural History
    (pp. xiii-xxii)

    The story of the Exodus is one of the best known narratives of Western Civilization. As recounted in the Bible, the Israelites are slaves in ancient Egypt. Moses, an Israelite raised in the Egyptian court as the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, kills an Egyptian who is mistreating an Israelite slave and is forced to flee the country. He arrives in the land of Midian, meets the daughters of the Midianite priest Jethro, marries one of them, and produces two sons. One day, while tending sheep for his father-in-law on the west side (or the back side, or the far...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Dating the Exodus
    (pp. 1-9)

    Actor Charlton Heston began his film career in 1950 on the steps of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History playing Marc Antony in an adaptation of Shakespeare’sJulius Caesar, the impressive pillars and white marble steps of the museum providing a highly effective stand-in for the Roman Senate.¹ Later he would go on to his most famous role, that of Moses in Cecil B. DeMille’s epic film,The Ten Commandments. In this movie the biblical Exodus takes place during the reign of the pharaoh Ramesses II, of Egypt’s Nineteenth Dynasty. In the year 2000, Field Museum Egyptologist Frank Yurco included...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Coming of the Hyksos
    (pp. 10-22)

    Genuine archaeology in Egypt goes back nearly 150 years, when serious excavators began to probe the dust-dry tombs along the middle and lower (or southern) reaches of the Nile. Relatively little archaeological work was done in the Egyptian Delta, however, for Delta sediments are nothing but mud, washed in by the yearly flooding of the Nile. Buried remains of ancient buildings and walls were made of mud brick, which could be distinguished from the encompassing mud only by feel—mud bricks were slightly more compact and sometimes had a slightly different color than the surrounding soil. Nonetheless, in the early...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Minoan Eruption
    (pp. 23-34)

    Over the last two decades or so a wealth of new scientific information has become available about the Minoan eruption of the Santorini/Thera volcano. Other scientific research sheds new light on the nature of large-scale eruptions in general and the effects these eruptions have on people, plants and animals, and the environment. With this information in hand, this chapter will describe the Minoan eruption and its probable effects, particularly the effects of its tsunami and airborne ash clouds. Then, the next chapter will go on to compare the eruption and its effects to the plagues described in the book of...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR The Plagues, the Exodus, and Historical Reality
    (pp. 35-45)

    The account of the ten plagues and the Exodus from Egypt has fascinated both scholars and ordinary people for centuries. In fact, “plague” is a bit of a misnomer, since most of these events can be better described as “signs” and “wonders.” Were they real, or were they the products of literary composition centuries after the date of the Exodus? Let us look, first, at the scholarly opinion on the plagues, then at the way oral historians would interpret them, and then, with the geological information on the Minoan eruption and its effects, and the historical/archaeological material from the previous...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Moses and the Mountain of God
    (pp. 46-67)

    Who was Moses? Without any doubt, he is the key human figure in the Exodus story. Without him there would have been no Exodus, no journey to the holy mountain, no sojourn in the wilderness, and no return of the people of Israel to Canaan. The first five books of the Bible are traditionally attributed to him, and the Ten Commandments, given to him on the Mountain of God, are arguably the fundamental religious, legal, and ethical guidelines for Western Civilization. One would think that there is nothing new to be said about him, but by putting Moses into the...

  11. CHAPTER SIX The Sojourn in the Wilderness
    (pp. 68-82)

    After their first stay at the Mountain of God, Moses led the Israelites north, intending to settle in Canaan. He sent spies ahead to scout out the land. The spies reported back to Moses at Kadesh that “We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large” (Numbers 13:27–28).

    Southern Canaan at this time had a number of cities and towns, both large and small. The most impressive features of...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Meanwhile, Back in Civilization
    (pp. 83-92)

    While the Israelites were spending their three to four generations wandering in the wilderness, other events were taking place that would eventually provide them with the opportunity to establish themselves once again in the land of Canaan. The trigger was a series of global and regional changes in the Earth’s climate. These changes facilitated the emergence of a disease that in turn became linked to a series of events in Egypt. The consequences of these events proved far-reaching and eventually resulted in the end of the Middle Bronze Age in Canaan—and the return of the Israelites to their homeland....

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT The Destruction of Jericho
    (pp. 93-101)

    Since the nineteenth century the ancient tell of Jericho, now known as Tell es-Sultan, has been the focus of archaeological interest as excavators have attempted to find traces of the biblical account of the fall of Jericho at the site. The first of three archaeological excavations at Tell Jericho in the twentieth century was an Austro-German expedition led by biblical scholar Ernst Sellin and archaeologist Carl Watzinger in the years 1907–1909 and again in 1911.¹ They found what they believed were traces of the massive walls destroyed by the Israelites. Later, these walls proved to be from the end...

  14. CHAPTER NINE The Conquest and Settlement of Canaan
    (pp. 102-119)

    After the destruction of Jericho, Joshua returned to his base at Gilgal not far to the north of the ruined town and pondered what to do next. The plains and broad alluvial valleys of Canaan were heavily populated and still contained the fortified Middle Bronze Age cities. Because of this the hill country was to be preferred; the Canaanites’ chariots could not be used there, and the steep terrain precluded deployment of heavily armed troops. A gifted military commander, Joshua realized that the terrain of the hill country worked to the advantage of his lightly armed and more mobile Israelite...

  15. CHAPTER TEN Back to Egypt
    (pp. 120-139)

    While the Israelites and other peoples were invading Canaan—that is, in the second half of the sixteenth century B.C.E.—Egyptian kings contented themselves with the taking of the Canaanite cities of Sharuhen and Gaza. Rather than referring to campaigns in Canaan, Egyptian records for this period contain accounts of expeditions and raids farther north, into Lebanon and Syria.¹

    Ahmose, the first ruler of Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty, reigned for twenty-five years and was succeeded by his son Amenophis I. Amenophis I’s successor was Tuthmosis (or Thutmose) I who had married Amenophis I’s sister. Tuthmosis I was a commoner of obscure...

  16. CHAPTER ELEVEN The Formation of the Exodus Tradition
    (pp. 140-151)

    In the two and a half centuries following the second exodus, Israelite tribal groups continued to live as pastoralists in the highlands and along the edges of the desert areas of Canaan. For them, virtually all of this period fell into what oral historian Jan Vansina termed a “floating gap” (see the Introduction and Appendix) and, once forgotten, could not be reclaimed in the historical record. Only the more notable tenures of certain judges such as Gideon and Deborah were remembered from this period. Biblical scholar Frank Moore Cross has suggested that during this period of Israelite history many of...

  17. APPENDIX Oral Transmission, Memory and Recall, and Oral History
    (pp. 152-156)
  18. Abbreviations
    (pp. 157-158)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 159-198)
  20. Glossary of Geological and Technical Terms
    (pp. 199-204)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 205-228)
  22. Index
    (pp. 229-239)